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 Peak(s):  Handies Peak  -  14,048 feet
 Post Date:  05/02/2012
 Date Climbed:   04/29/2012
 Posted By:  nkan02
 Additional Members:   bhaydin

 Skiing the cornice on Handies     

Do what you have to do in a low snow year

Stats: ~6 mile roundtrip, 2,700 elevation gain, max. speed: 22 mph

With the good weather forecast such as temps in mid-50ties, mostly sunny skies and 20% chance of snow expected after noon, I felt pretty good about the long drive from Denver to the Grizzly Gulch TH near Lake City. The Cinnamon pass had opened just 48 hours before and Handies always seem to hold snow well into June which should guarantee a great ski descent. Well, the weather decided to through a curve ball at us here.

In the morning it became abundantly clear that 20% chance of snow meant more like 100% chance of light snow before noon. It was snowing, but visibility was still pretty good. We started from the American Basin TH just before 8am, hoping that the weather will improve as the day goes on.


We were excited to see some ski tracks in the basin, they looked like just a couple of days old.

Soon it was time to decide on the ascent route. We seemed to identify the "snow route" described by Bill, only it looked way more rocky and thin than anticipated. So we continued on the standard summer route from the American basin.

There was good snow coverage in the basin. We could easily identify the old crusty layer with maybe 6 inches of fresh snow on top of it. Ski crampons were helpful in a couple of steeper sections, although we could have probably avoided it with better route finding. We took out time traversing through the basin, hoping for the weather to pass through. For the last 1K feet, the skis went on the pack, although I could (and should) have skinned most of the way up - it would just mean taking skis on and off the pack, which I was not willing to deal with. Well, I definitely felt the weight closer to the summit.

Snow(?) route looked pretty thin

Surveying the route ahead

Getting higher in the basin

Upper basin

The summit ridge looked, again, surprisingly dry, with only a rather narrow ribbon of cornice remaining. The peek into the Grizzly Gulch from the summit ridge revealed relatively little snow and the melted out route from Whitecross mountain. I could have walked the perfectly dry summer trail, but I stuck closer to the cornice, stubbornly testing it with hopes that it would soften up for the descent. Alas.

The summit ridge

the cornice

Whitecross Mtn & Grizzly Gulch

We did not linger long on the summit as it was cold & windy. Our hopes that the sun would come out and warm up the snow did not materialize. All I had was the hard and crusty ribbon of cornice to descent (Brett wisely left his board above the continuous snow field, couple of hundred feet below the summit).

Wetterhorn & Uncompahgre from the summit

This is me trying to navigate the cornice. Laughable.

Below the summit ridge, conditions somewhat improved - with less wind, snow became slightly softer so we could at least make a few turns. The lower we descended, the better conditions became, but turns were never steep. It took us just about an hour to ski back to the car from the summit.


Brett is navigating variable snow conditions


Skiing out of the basin


All in all, gorgeous area, worth exploring in a good snow year. Thinking I'll postpone further ski attempts in San Juans until next year.

Brett's report can be found here:

My GPS Tracks on Google Maps (made from a .GPX file upload):

Thumbnails for uploaded photos (click to open slideshow):

  • Comments or Questions (7)

Image #11     2012-05-03 16:51:16
It's epic. You should submit it to a magazine.


agreed     2012-05-03 16:58:22
I am thinking Comedy Central though, not a magazine.


thin snow     2012-05-03 18:59:36
Big difference in snow from end of May last year. Had to start from Silver Creek TH.
Your weather was better than mine. I chose to abort about half way up because of flat light.
Hoped to get it the weekend of 5/13 but maybe better wait till next year.

Glad you were able to ski it though.


American Peak     2012-05-03 20:29:11
Looks like the north facing couloirs on American Peak are in!


Congrats!     2012-05-04 00:34:14
Such a great peak and an amazing area to add to your ski descents. Well played

San Juan Ron

Great Report     2012-05-05 11:26:28
And nice to meet you at the TH! SJ Ron


SJ Ron     2012-05-05 17:04:52
It was very nice to meet you too! And thank you so much for the timely updates on TH conditions - you made this trip possible. We would have waited if Cinnamon pass was closed (or if we thought it was). Thanks again, Natalie

Gerry - light was flat in the basin at some point. Fortunately it looked like the weather would clear out - and it did.

Tommy - thanks

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